Pakistan delayed arresting al-Qaida's No. 3 leader for at least six months in 2004 because the CIA was hoping he could lead them to Osama bin Laden, a former Pakistani spy chief said Thursday, as he defended the intelligence agency against charges it harbored the world's most wanted men.
Details also emerged about the three bin Laden wives being held in Pakistan. Two security officials said one is the daughter of an unidentified Afghan Taliban commander and one is a Saudi. The other is Yemeni, as has been reported. They said they would give the CIA access to the women once the Pakistanis had finished their interrogation.
The unilateral U.S. raid that killed bin Laden last week in a garrison town not far from the capital was a stunning victory for the CIA, but it has pulled at already fraying ties with Pakistan. Islamabad has been stung by suspicions its security forces harbored the terrorist leader and is angry that it was not notified in advance of the raid.
In the northwest of the country, American missiles fired from an unmanned drone killed five suspected militants Thursday, Pakistani officials said, indicating Washington is pressing ahead with the tactic despite increased concerns in Pakistan over sovereignty.
Ehsan ul-Haq, who was chief of Pakistan's spy service between 2001 and 2004 and later headed the army, dismissed suggestions that because bin Laden was living close to a military academy it meant that someone in the security establishment was protecting him.
He said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency has a long history of arresting al-Qaida terrorists in conjunction with the CIA, and that the raid on bin Laden should also have been a joint one. U.S. officials have said they did not tell Pakistan because they were worried someone might tip off bin Laden.
"There are hundreds of operations we did together. They should quote to me ... one operation where they shared with us information and we did not succeed," he said.
The bin Laden raid "would have been a success story," said Haq. "It could have re-strengthened the ISI-CIA cooperation."
He cited the arrest of Abu Farraj al-Libbi, al-Qaida's No. 3, in northwestern Pakistan in 2004 as an example of this cooperation.
"When we were about to take him, our U.S. friends told us, 'Could you please hold on? Don't take him. Maybe this guy can lead us to Osama bin Laden,'" he said.
They monitored al-Libbi for six to eight months, failed to find any link to bin Laden and eventually arrested him, said Haq.
The U.S. commandos who killed bin Laden took his body with them and buried him at sea. They killed at least four other people and left three women and several children behind alive, according to Pakistani officials, who have given varying accounts of their numbers.
On Thursday, two officials said one of the wives in Pakistani custody is the daughter of an Afghan Taliban commander. Bin Laden lived for several years in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, where he was sheltered by the Taliban.
Several different accounts of the nationalities of bin Laden's wives in custody have emerged in the media. The sole sources of information presently are Pakistani officials, who have all spoken anonymously to discuss the sensitive subject.
The U.S. has asked Pakistan for access to the wives, who may be able to shed light on how bin Laden managed to live undetected in Abbottabad for at least five years. But the relationship between the CIA and the ISI, which was bad before the raid, has worsened.
The officials said, however, that the CIA would get access once the Pakistanis had finished their investigation.
The drone attack was the third since the bin Laden raid. Last year, America launched more than 115 attacks at al-Qaida and Taliban targets in the northwest, but the pace has dropped in the first months of this year. U.S. officials do not discuss the covert program.
Two Pakistani intelligence officials said Thursday's drone-fired missiles hit a vehicle in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, an al-Qaida and Taliban stronghold that has been subject to frequent missile attacks. Militants often use the area to cross into Afghanistan, where many are involved in fighting U.S., NATO and Afghan forces.
The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. The identities of those killed in the missile strike have not been confirmed.
Keaten reported from Paris.